Thursday, January 2, 2020

The Murder of Blaze Bernstein

Blaze Bernstein (19) was a pre-medical student at University of Pennsylvania when he disappeared in Orange County, California on January 2nd, 2018. At the time of his disappearance, Blaze was spending his winter break from school visiting his family and hometown in southern California. On the evening of the 2nd, Blaze was picked up from his parents’ house by Samuel Woodward (20), an acquaintance Blaze knew from high school. He never returned home that night, and his parents reported him missing after he failed to show up for a dentist appointment on January 3rd.

When investigators questioned Woodward, he told them that after he picked up Blaze, he drove the two of them to a nearby Hobby Lobby parking lot to “catch up.” Later, the two of them drove to Borrego park. Woodward told police that Blaze got out of the car at the park and never returned. He said he waited for Blaze for an hour before driving to his girlfriend’s house. He never heard from Blaze again after that. Police immediately noticed several inconsistencies in Woodward’s story. When questioned about his girlfriend, Woodward apparently could not remember her last name or where she lived—despite the fact that he told police that he went to her house after Blaze’s disappearance. Additionally, Woodward had abrasions on his arms, which he blamed on being in a fight club.

On January 9th, 2018, Blaze’s body was found in Borrego park. He had been stabbed to death. Just a few days later, Woodward was arrested for Blaze’s murder. The arrest came after investigators found DNA evidence that linked him to the crime scene. In fact, certain evidence they found made investigators believe that Woodward had returned to the crime scene days after the murder as well. 

Related image
Samuel Woodward (left) following his arrest.
While investigating the nature of Blaze and Woodward’s relationship, it was revealed that the two were not close friends in high school. They weren’t reportedly enemies either; they just simply didn’t run in the same social circles. However, police found text messages that Blaze sent to two different female friends in June of 2017 that indicated that Woodward had hit on him. Blaze, who was openly gay, seemed happy about this interaction. If Woodward had actually hit on Blaze, investigators found this interesting—because Woodward told had previously investigators that Blaze had kissed him on the lips as they sat in the car on the evening of January 2nd, 2018, and that the kiss was unwanted. Woodward told investigators that he pushed him away and called him derogatory names after that.

After investigating Woodward’s background, police found that he was a member of a Neo-Nazi group called the Atomwaffen Division. The group is described as “relatively small, but incredibly anti-Semitic and hateful.” Since Blaze was both gay and Jewish, the prosecution decided to charge him with a hate crime as well. When the hate crime charges were announced, prosecutors stated that they believe Woodward murdered Blaze because of his sexuality. The Santa Ana district’s attorney announced the enhancement in Samuel’s charges after finding evidence on his cell phone, laptop, and social media accounts that reveal his hateful intentions. The DA also explained that the evidence included “a large number of texts and images that spew hate at every protected group.”  The content is described as very homophobic, misogynistic and anti-semitic.

Samuel currently remains behind bars as he waits further court proceedings. He has pleaded not guilty. 

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